Last Sunday national elections were held in Chile. Marianella Kloka spoke with Pía Figueroa, a member of our Chilean office, to get her first impressions of the process and the results, ahead of the second round of elections scheduled for Sunday 19 December.

How was the drafting of the Constitution “from below”, the Constituent Assembly, a demand of the people who rose up in 2019?

First of all, let us be clear that the Chilean social awakening was the result of the confluence of many partial and thematic struggles that were suddenly understood as caused by the same system. Thus, those who have been fighting for years for free and quality education, those who have been arguing in the streets that we cannot continue with the pension system we have, those who mobilised for the right to water, those who fought against the mega hydroelectric plants in the south of the country, those from the environmental sacrifice zones, the women who fought a long battle to obtain an abortion on at least three grounds, as well as all the variants of the broad feminist movement and those who denounced patriarchy, those who proposed a Constituent Assembly to reform the Constitution, in short, all the different causes that had been demonstrating for their own demands for years, understood – with the protest led by the secondary school students who jumped the turnstiles to avoid paying the Metro fares that had gone up by 30 pesos – that it was no longer a question of a particular abuse but of the very uses of this system, they understood that neoliberalism was the problem, that we had 30 years of individualism, competition, social and economic distance that segregates and discriminates. That’s why this social awakening was so inclusive, equal, in solidarity, some defended others, we all helped each other in the face of police aggression, we showed solidarity with each other’s struggles and we saw ourselves as one people, united, united, united, inseparable, taking back in part the ideals that had been trampled on by our history, as well as raising the hope of building a new kind of society.

In that atmosphere, the possibility of changing the Constitution was also very important, but the mobilisations sustained for three months without interruption were not really about that. They were about radically transforming patriarchal and predatory neoliberalism in all its manifestations.

What happened then?

Then, the political class installed itself as a protagonist, without having been called upon to take part, proposing the Plebiscite to decide whether or not a new Constitution was wanted and how to go about it. There was a great deal of resistance to this initiative, and several parties even stepped aside and no longer wanted to take part in the proposals of the ruling classes. But the echo given by the media and political manipulation ended up channelling the protest from the streets to the ballot box and it was defeated with a large majority voting in favour of a Constituent Convention that is currently drafting a new charter for Chile.

What is the political interest at stake in these elections in Chile?

Obviously, the Convention has been very much resisted by conservative forces, and not only by them, it has had difficulties and suffered several attacks. But although it is going ahead and will probably produce a more than interesting founding document, open to new forms of political coexistence and also to a new economic model that will allow us to move towards an ecological and egalitarian society, all this will have to be ratified by a new plebiscite, which the right is already preparing to reject.

So, in these elections of the day before yesterday, there is a fundamental discussion about the model of the country that is wanted. And the right is no longer simply opposing the left, but the mask of the ultra-conservative Pinochetism of the right has been removed, winning in these elections. His opponent in the second round will be one of the student leaders who reached parliament and represents the aspirations of the new generations as well as the left. Certainly, Gabriel Boric will do everything possible – if he comes to govern – to ensure that we have a new Constitution, validated by a broad victory at the ballot box.

What do the current election results show?

But the current results show us a fractured country, with a right wing inspired by Trump or Bolsonaro, much more extreme than Piñera, that rescues the legacy of the Dictatorship to stop the process of historical progress in the hands of the new generations, of women and of the people. It is not a minor fracture; these are very opposing forces in a contest without a political centre, but a dispute for political power in a world in which institutions are increasingly disintegrating and the loss of credibility is rapidly taking precedence.

Moreover, this Sunday’s elections have left the parliamentary benches that will oppose one or the other president, with neither of them being able to govern, but facing a very tough opposition. This fracture into two major camps is also evident in the composition of parliament.

So, the future does not look very optimistic?

I believe that, in spite of everything, the great historical processes are making headway and that humanity, despite its crises, is moving forward in an evolutionary and transformative direction. I hold on to this belief in order to be able to hope that this is indeed the time when young people, as the generation that should take power and be able to guide this society, transforming it, can take over the new government in Chile, support the work of the Constitutional Convention, shape a new Constitution and move towards a new form of society that decentralises political power, modifies the economic system through structural changes that favour the poorest, provides sustainability for natural resources and ensures the continuity of the environment in the best possible conditions. I believe in young people, I see them as very well prepared, but they need a lot of ingenuity to overcome the inertia of the most regressive and conservative tendencies.

How do you interpret the 52% abstention rate in last Sunday’s elections?

It seems to me that since the political class made a point of channelling the protest to the ballot box, many people have withdrawn from the mobilising process. This has been progressing and the discrediting of the elites is an immobilising factor. But also, in Chile there is a lot of apathy, ignorance, disinterest that makes so many people withdraw from the electoral process. Abstention may be partly an intentional rejection of the political class, but it seems to me that it is not so much a repulsion as the atony of a people with little commitment to their future and little consistency. Many complain about how bad things are, but they do nothing to help us get out of this situation. I don’t think that those who mobilised in the streets are precisely those who abstained from voting. The truth is that it is very difficult to know why there is so much abstention. Hopefully it can be reduced in the next ballot and people will understand the need to opt for the new that is emerging, overcoming the old that is so resistant to the forces of evolution.